Back in 2014, the 1960s Batman TV series — starring Adam West as the title character and Burt Ward as his sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder — was released on Blu-ray in a complete series box set. At the time, there was an opportunity to interview West, though for various reasons it never found its way into print. What follows is that interview in its entirety. In it, Adam, who passed away last year, reflects on the insanity of Batmania and its impact on his life.
GEEK: We’re on a very strict schedule, but there is one question…
Adam West: I never dated her! No!
Glad we got that out of the way. There’s so much excitement about the box set of Batman, and you’re doing all these interviews and all this publicity, so in a weird way does this feel like 1966 all over again?
Yes in a way it does, because the excitement is noticeably the same. I mean if I put a thermometer into the excitement water it would read about the same as when the show broke in 1966. I’m very happy about that. What does an actor want? I guess to be loved. Every time he goes out onstage or before the camera, he’s saying, “Love me! Appreciate my work! I’m really doing my best here!” If I made people happy, and I know I have, and I’ve given them a lot of laughs, then I’m a happy guy.
Was it always so happy?
Well, there was a time when I was typecast so terribly, and up for a number of big features, and I couldn’t do them, because the producers casting would say, “No, what would happen if he went to bed with the leading lady? They’d forget the whole story and be, like, “Look, it’s Batman in bed.” But I just decided years ago to love the character, because people love it, and I should be grateful to have that. My God, to be one of the few icons around, this is neat.
When you’re elevated to such a degree by people, and then it kind of ends abruptly in terms of the craziness… is it hard to cope with when they turn off the applause sign, so to speak?
In a sense, it is. For example, I guess at three or four in the morning, some nights I get something biting at me like piranha fish, because I’m thinking I don’t deserve this, and I can’t deal with this. Look, I grew up on a farm in Walla Walla, Washington. I worked in the fields for years, among other things, and when things break that big for you and you become like a rock star, of a kind, it’s tough to deal with. But I’ve been very fortunate, I just stayed drunk!… He said comfortable, not drunk!
Jonathan Frid from Dark Shadows, who also had that insane stardom, noted he was getting the kind of attention that The Beatles were, and it was pretty mind-blowing.
It is, because in the 60s there were three Bs — that’s what the magazines said — Batman, Bond, and the Beatles. And I was asked to play Bond, too.
For On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, right?
Yeah. And then they talked to me about playing drums instead of Ringo, but he turned out to be a great guy.
In the history of Batman, this kid watches his parents get murdered and he becomes Batman, a very serious, dark kind of thing, and yet you get cast in a show that puts on a happy face.
You really hit the nail on the head. Bruce baby was crazy. I mean, Batman’s nutty, so I kind of played it that way, and super serious and always moving, musing, trying to put clues together, and very physical and solemn. We didn’t need all those explosions and flames and people blowing up. We didn’t need that, because we planned to be funny and yet be wonderfully exciting for the kids. Which was no more than an evident homage to DC comics.
In retrospect, it’s interesting that this dark character took a lighter approach, although you did play it seriously.
It wasn’t the Dark Knight, I decided to be the Bright Knight. And to bring the laughs. And, by the way, the Batmobile was wonderful, because we had all of those early scientific advances. We had the first car phone, even though it had a cord. We had flames coming out the back and a parachute to help us stop. It was kind of interesting to be pretend driving such an advanced machine.
At Comic-Con, when they had all the Batmobiles lined up, the one that kept drawing the most eyes was yours.
Isn’t that amazing? You know, George Barris [designer of the car] was a genius at that, because the car he designed for us was so f’n funky. It’s just funky and fun, and the kids loved it. And they remember it, but the other machines, I’m afraid to say, I don’t want to be critical, but they’re pretty brutal and slick.
In the comics, the relationship between Batman and Robin was so solid and such a large part of the ethos. On a TV show, you almost have to create that chemistry instantly when you’re cast. What was it like behind the scenes when you met Burt and started to dive right into this relationship as Batman and Robin?
I told him that I wanted to test with him. I was already signed, but wanted the chemistry to be right, and when they told me about a couple of young actors who were up for it, I tested with Burt, it took me no more than three or four minutes to know that this kid was right. The chemistry was there, because he was enthusiastic, he was vital, he was bright, he was athletic, and he was worshipful of Batman. It was really fun stuff.
Over the three years, did you think the show needed to change direction at all?
In the last year, the studio was close to getting enough episodes, enough content and material, to keep the show in reruns forever. It became an evergreen show, and they weren’t spending as much money – with decorations, with writers, with everything. I sensed that maybe this thing was wearing a little thin. I knew I was. But the first two seasons were wonderful, and then in the third, I think the audience saw, too, from my mail for years, that they’re not quite as good as they might be. They have fun identifying things in that last season that were somehow a little amiss. They really enjoyed that – there are a lot of games I see them play about that. But I have to say I’m amazed not only at the longevity of the show, but its influence around the world.
You’d mentioned before that it was difficult when the show ended. I’m not trying to be a putz bringing this up, but when they made the movie with Michael Keaton, when you were having such a hard time getting work, and yet you couldn’t play Batman in a movie, was that frustrating to you?
Yes it was, it crossed my head and I thought about it, and I was frustrated from time to time, but I found myself trying to keep so damn busy just to pay the bills, that it didn’t bother me that much. And when I knew they were going in an entirely different direction, darker, with the Dark Knight, I was the Bright Knight, so I always knew, in my heart of hearts, that our show was going to last, that it would outlast everything.
Is there a way to encapsulate what that period was like? It’s the mid-60s, things are exploding everywhere. When you look back on those days, what are your memories of what was happening when you were in the midst of it?
Well, first of all, I never really thought about it, that is to the extent of what was going on in the 60s. I was just too busy solving crimes. But as time went along, I became aware with a lot of other people that the 60s were a very interesting period, maybe one of the most interesting in 100 years. I was very pleased to have been part of it in that we tried to be socially satirical and to reflect the things that were going on, which I think we did. Everything from the artwork, the color, to some political things, and if you look at the show carefully, you’ll make all kinds of discoveries like that.
George Reeves, who played Superman in Adventures of Superman, died without knowing the impact he had made. You’ve been lucky to see over the decades how much that love is there for you and your portrayal, and the impact you had.
Thank you for saying that. I actually feel very quite humbled by that. Again I say I’m probably the luckiest actor alive. That I’ve become kind of an icon and people have an affection for me, is wonderful.
Overall, Adam, when you look back at where you were then and where you are now, is there a way to sum up your feeling about this whole legacy?
I wake up sometimes late at night, and I think, why me? What happened? I was a farm boy from Walla Walla Washington, I don’t know what the hell happened to me. It just did.
Images: 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros